Florida Gators: Trenton Brown

Editor’s note: We’re breaking down the Gators’ two-deep depth chart every day for the next two weeks. We’ll cover every position as well as offer a glimpse into the future. You can read the whole series here.

OFFENSIVE LINE

[+] EnlargeTyler Moore
AP Photo/John RaouxJunior guard Tyler Moore will be entering his second season as a starter at Florida after transferring from Nebraska.
The starters: Junior left tackle D.J. Humphries, junior left guard Tyler Moore, senior center Max Garcia, senior right guard Trenton Brown and senior right tackle Chaz Green

The backups: True freshman Kavaris Harkless, junior Trip Thurman, redshirt freshman Cameron Dillard, junior Drew Sarvary and redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson

The rest: Redshirt freshman Antonio Riles, true freshmen Nolan Kelleher, David Sharpe, Andrew Mike and Travaris Dorsey

The lowdown: Florida feels really good about its starting five, all of whom are experienced starters. The three interior linemen -- Moore, Garcia and Brown -- were transfers who saw their first SEC action last season and are expected to be better in 2014. The Gators should be strongest at tackle, where Humphries and Green are a pair of talented bookends. Both missed significant time last season with injuries (Green missed the whole season), and Florida struggled mightily in the passing game as a result. Injuries ravaged the Gators' O-line last season, and it is by far the team's biggest concern once again because of a decided lack of depth. The most promising recruit from the 2013 class, guard Octavius Jackson, came the closest to burning his redshirt last fall, but instead a chronic shoulder injury ended his career. Only one of Florida's remaining backup offensive linemen -- Sarvary -- has ever started a game. In fact, only two reserves -- Sarvary and Thurman -- have any college football experience. The Gators are asking a lot of new OL coach Mike Summers, but he did have success inheriting a similar situation at Southern Cal last season. Summers, an excellent teacher with a calm, steady demeanor, knows his job, and Florida's success likely relies on mining the talent of backups such as Johnson, Dillard and Riles. One or two injuries to starters could press any of the backups into duty this season.

The future: The Gators have the numbers they need on the O-line; the problem is the majority of the players are raw and have never taken a snap in college. Head coach Will Muschamp is concerned about a big drop-off between his first- and second-teamers. Looking ahead to 2015 is even more concerning, as the Gators will need three new starters. Who's next in line? Muschamp lauded the bulk and athleticism of Johnson, who can play tackle and guard at 6-foot-5, 308 pounds. But Johnson missed time last fall when he needed surgery on torn cartilage in his knee and missed most of the spring with a concussion. Kelleher, an early enrollee with the size (6-5, 311) to play right away, missed all of spring with a back injury and will redshirt this fall after surgery. Injuries upon injuries have set back this group's progress. This fall, regardless of whether they redshirt or play, true freshmen such as Sharpe, Harkless, Mike and Dorsey will have to develop with some urgency. They'll be needed in 2015. Florida continues to focus on the OL in recruiting and has a 2015 commit from four-star center Tyler Jordan. The top prospect on the Gators' wish list is five-star tackle Martez Ivey of Apopka, Fla., the No. 2 overall player in the nation.

Replacing the Gators: Offense

May, 14, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The NFL draft is over, so it's time to talk about the next wave of Gators.

Florida had four players selected last weekend with just one from the offensive side of the ball.

On Tuesday we looked at the defensive replacements. Here's a look at who will replace the Gators on offense who were drafted or signed as undrafted free agents.

OG Jon Halapio
Sixth-round pick, New England Patriots
A three-year starter, Halapio battled through some injuries and was a rock at right guard. He was better as a run blocker than in pass protection, but the same could be said for most of Florida's offensive linemen. By the end of spring practice, Florida's starting guards were junior Tyler Moore and senior Trenton Brown, each of whom spent time last season at tackle. Brown is a behemoth at 6-foot-8 and 348 pounds who forced his way into the starting lineup by improving his footwork, pad level and consistency throughout the spring. Moore, no slouch at 6-5, 320, is still dealing with the linger effects of a broken elbow but seems better suited as an interior lineman. Both guards have the potential to upgrade Florida's line in run and pass blocking.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Robinson
AP Photo/Phil SandlinDemarcus Robinson, who caught five passes as a freshman in 2013, will be one of the Gators' playmakers next season.
WR Solomon Patton
Undrafted free agent, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After a quiet first three years at UF, Patton became an indispensable contributor as a slot receiver, deep threat and kick returner. Patton's elite speed is something the Gators will be sorely lacking, but there are some emerging players on the horizon. Sophomore Demarcus Robinson was the Gators' best playmaker in the passing game throughout spring practice. He's not nearly as fast at Patton, but he's got some magic after the catch. Another sophomore, Chris Thompson, has the speed to be a deep threat and will be counted on to stretch the field. In the slot, the Gators' expectations are a bit lower as they look to juniors Latroy Pittman and Valdez Showers to be solid route-runners and reliable targets.

H-back Trey Burton
Undrafted free agent, Philadelphia Eagles
In his unique career at Florida, Burton played every offensive skill position and finished his senior season as a wide receiver. In the pros he'll get a shot to be an H-back, which is where the Gators would have loved to have had him back. Under new coordinator Kurt Roper, UF's offense is perfectly suited for tight ends, tweeners and oversized wide receivers to play in the slot or release off the line. Florida's returning tight ends -- seniors Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton (Trey's brother) -- combined for four catches in 2013. While Westbrook, Burton and senior fullbacks Hunter Joyer and Gideon Ajagbe showed flashes of pass-catching ability in spring ball, the Gators won't have to rely on any of the four veterans to do more than he is capable of. That's because former Virginia tight end Jake McGee transferred to Florida after graduating from UVA last month. His experience as the Cavaliers' leading receiver in 2013 could be a game-changer for Florida's offense, which was severely lacking in proven playmakers.

C Jonotthan Harrison
Undrafted free agent, Indianapolis Colts
Another three-year starter, Harrison anchored Florida's O-line and was a respected leader on and off the field. His replacement is a very similar player in senior Max Garcia, who was Florida's best and most consistent lineman last season. Garcia played much of 2013 at left guard but also has on his résumé a full season as a starter at left tackle for Maryland in 2011. Just like Harrison once did, Garcia is having some issues learning how to master the shotgun snap, but his coaches aren't worried and routinely praised him in spring practice despite some errant snaps. If he can fix that and also get comfortable calling out protections for his teammates on the line, Garcia could upgrade the position by being a little stronger as a run blocker.

OL Kyle Koehne
Tryout contract, Atlanta Falcons
Koehne became a key reserve on UF's line, as he backed up several positions and was able to step in as a starter for half the season with little drop-off. The Gators' starting O-line is set with all five players having starting experience. Where things get dicey is on the second unit. Florida's OL coach, Mike Summers, has his hands full trying to develop the next Koehne. His top reserve after spring practice was Trip Thurman, a junior who got a long look on the first unit and has played just about every position. Thurman will likely be Florida's top backup at all three interior spots. At guard, the Gators also have junior college transfer Drew Sarvary, who started 10 of 11 games as a freshman at Florida A&M in 2012 and has the requisite size at 6-6, 318. Options are even more limited with reserve tackles, where Florida has freshman early enrollee Kavaris Harkless, injured redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson, and soon-to-enroll freshman David Sharpe.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With four players selected in last weekend's NFL draft, the Florida Gators have now had a total of 322 players picked by current NFL franchises.

UF has long been one of the most talent-rich pipelines to the pros but didn't make a huge splash in this year's draft. That wasn't a big surprise after a 4-8 season in 2013.

With a bounce-back season this fall, could the Gators similarly rebound in next spring's draft?

Florida has a 16-man senior class. Here’s an early look at next year’s potential draftees:

(*denotes underclassman)

[+] EnlargeDante Fowler Jr.
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsIf Dante Fowler Jr. can overcome some inconsistency he could work his way into the first round of next year's draft.
DE/LB Dante Fowler Jr.*
6-foot-3, 266 pounds

After seeing junior cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy go undrafted, Florida's underclassmen are likely to be more cautious next year. The one junior who won't need to hesitate if he has a big year is Fowler, who might be UF's best player. Fowler led the team with 10.5 tackles for loss in 2013, and his 50 tackles led all defensive linemen. His monster game against Tennessee last season -- one sack among three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery -- put him firmly on the NFL's radar, and Fowler is already listed among the top prospects in a few way-too-early 2015 mock drafts. He'll need to shake the inconsistency he's shown in his first two seasons, where he would dominate in one game and then disappear in another, but Fowler has the requisite talent and drive. If spring ball was any indication, he's in for a breakthrough season in 2014. Projected rounds: 1-3

TE Jake McGee, 6-6, 250
The newest Gator will enroll in graduate-school classes on Monday after transferring from Virginia, where he finished his undergraduate studies last month. McGee was the Cavaliers' leading receiver last season and had 71 catches for 769 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two years at UVa. Last fall, he was ranked among the top tight end prospects for the 2014 draft by ESPN guru Mel Kiper. The Gators have no other proven pass-catchers at tight end and really no proven playmakers in the passing game, so McGee could very well be a featured target. Projected rounds: 3-5

C Max Garcia, 6-4, 311
Garcia went through some growing pains in spring practice working at center for the first time, but UF coaches expect him to be their starter this fall. The move could pay big dividends with his draft stock, as Garcia has already proven to be a capable guard and even started 12 games at left tackle for Maryland before transferring to UF. Tough and durable, Garcia was Florida's only O-lineman to start all 12 games in 2013. Projected rounds: 3-6

OT Chaz Green, 6-5, 300
One of Florida's best linemen before he tore his labrum in preseason camp last August, Green is expected to anchor the line at right tackle. He's started 19 of his 20 career games at right tackle and is solid in run and pass blocking. Green could still pursue a medical redshirt for the 2013 season and return for the 2015 season if he isn't happy with where he looks to land in the draft. Projected rounds: 4-6

DT Leon Orr, 6-5, 302
Orr has great size but so far hasn't turned it into consistent production. Coming off a broken wrist that cost him all of spring practice, he is nevertheless a likely starter in his final year. If he adds strength in the weight room and does a better job of stuffing the run and collapsing the pocket, he could command the attention of NFL scouts. Projected rounds: 5-7

WR Quinton Dunbar, 6-1, 194
Florida's leader on and off the field among wide receivers, Dunbar has improved with every season. He won't wow you with speed, but he's made himself into a solid possession receiver and has started 25 of his 38 career games. Projected rounds: 5-7

[+] EnlargeChaz Green
John Korduner/Icon SMIRight tackle Chaz Green must overcome some injury issue before deciding on a potential NFL future.
LB Neiron Ball, 6-3, 235
Like former Florida linebacker Ronald Powell, who was picked in Saturday's fifth round by the New Orleans Saints, Ball is a great athlete whose production has been marred by injuries. After starting seven of 12 games last season and more than doubling his career tackles, Ball is looking to stay healthy in 2014 and take the next step in his development as an impact player. Projected rounds: 5-7

LB Michael Taylor, 6-0, 233
Undersized but quick, Taylor broke through as a starter in 2013 and also became a team leader. He has issues dropping into coverage but is instinctive against the run and led Florida with 62 tackles last season. Projected rounds: 6-7

OL Trenton Brown, 6-8, 338
Scouts drool over linemen with Brown's size, but the big fella's footwork, pad level, awareness and technique will be heavily scrutinized. He started five of 12 games at right tackle in 2013 and is penciled in as UF's starting right guard this fall. Projected rounds: 6-7

Other late-round possibilities: Hunter Joyer will be ranked among the best fullbacks available in the 2015 draft, but unfortunately for him it's a position that doesn't often get drafted. ... Ditto for punter Kyle Christy, who dazzled in his sophomore season with a school-record 45.8-yard average. ... He may be undersized at 5-10, 184, but Jabari Gorman is Florida's most reliable safety. It's become a glamour position in Will Muschamp's defense, so a strong senior season could draw NFL attention. ... Defensive tackle Darious Cummings has a good shot at a starting job in his final year thanks to the improvement he showed in spring practice. ... After suffering a torn ACL last August, wide receiver Andre Debose is back for a sixth year at Florida. He's never lacked talent but has also never become a consistent option in the passing game. Debose has speed, athleticism and terrific vision after the catch -- all qualities that also made him an elite kickoff returner in his UF career.

Stock watch: Florida Gators

May, 2, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With spring practice fully digested, let's take a look at which Florida Gators' stock is up and who's on the way down.

RISING

[+] EnlargeDante Fowler Jr.
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsDante Fowler Jr. looks ready to terrorize SEC quarterbacks after a strong spring.
Dante Fowler Jr.: The hybrid defensive end/linebacker altered his diet and dropped some body fat before spring. He quickly proved to be Florida's most consistent pass-rushing threat and showed flashes of dominating offensive linemen. While Fowler became an obvious team leader off the field, it appeared that many of his teammates were in awe of his talents on the field.

Starting O-line: Junior left tackle D.J. Humphries shook off last season's struggles and looked more like the prospect who arrived at UF with elite status. Junior Tyler Moore looked comfortable at left guard and was largely recovered from a broken elbow. Senior Max Garcia consistently earned praise despite struggling with shotgun snaps in his transition to a new position. Senior Trenton Brown played well enough to force the coaches to find a starting spot for him at right guard. Senior right tackle Chaz Green held off Brown's challenge and showed that he's finally healthy after missing last season with a torn labrum.

Demarcus Robinson: The sophomore receiver was in the doghouse and suspended twice last year but came back with more maturity and focus this spring. His talent was so obvious in practice one teammate called him "a freak." A physical presence at 6-foot-2 with speed and vision, Robinson looks like UF's best chance for a breakout star in the passing game.

Bryan Cox Jr.: Going into spring, Florida didn't have much at the defensive end position beyond Fowler and junior Jonathan Bullard. Cox opened his coaches' eyes with a non-stop motor that always showed up in film review and allowed them to experiment with Bullard at tackle. Cox might not be a starter in the fall, but the sophomore assured himself a lot of playing time with his spring performance.

Adam Lane: The redshirt freshman isn't high up on the running back depth chart, but he excited coaches and teammates with his running style. At 5-7 and 222 pounds, Lane is built like a bowling ball. He doesn't have breakaway speed, but always seems to bounce off defenders and fall forward.

FALLING

Brian Poole: As one of the few upperclassmen in UF's secondary, Poole had an opportunity to grab the coveted starting job opposite Vernon Hargreaves III. Instead of standing out, however, he blended in with two true freshman competitors and could wind up back at the nickel cornerback position where he played last fall.

Caleb Brantley: Much is expected of the redshirt freshman who was one of the nation's top Class of 2013 prospects. Florida is urgently trying to develop some difference-makers on the D-line, but Brantley doesn't always respond well to coaching and his motor runs hot and cold.

Valdez Showers: It has been an adventurous few months for Showers, who converted from safety to running back last August and spent all of spring as a slot receiver. He showed he still needs to work on his hands and fell behind Latroy Pittman, but Showers can expect more chances and playing time this fall.

Antonio Riles: Position changes are rarely a good sign in college football, but it's still early for the redshirt freshman who moved from defensive tackle/end to offensive guard. Coaches and teammates say he's got natural ability to play the O-line, but this move might have more to do with Florida's incoming D-line talent.

Raphael Andrades: Already a junior despite hardly playing in 2013, the wide receiver surprised many by playing as a true freshman and even starting three games. But he has just two career receptions and is now buried deep on an expanding depth chart.

REBOUNDING

Austin Hardin: The sophomore kicker showed that he's not giving up his job without a fight. After working on his mechanics throughout the offseason, he was consistent in practice and hit all four of his field goals in the spring game. Hardin will have to fend off more competition in fall camp.
Editor’s note: With Florida's spring practice now in the rear-view mirror, we’ll clean out the notebook this week and touch on a few remaining topics.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Want some hard evidence for optimism inside of the Florida football offices? Look no further than two upperclassmen starting at offensive tackle.

Bookends D.J. Humphries and Chaz Green are back, and they're healthy.

[+] EnlargeChaz Green
John Korduner/Icon SMIRight tackle Chaz Green's last appearance came in the 2013 Allstate Sugar Bowl, but he was healthy and looking sharp this spring.
"That’s a big deal, man," Humphries said during spring practice. "Me and Chaz being back, that’s good. When we’re on the field together, it works well. We’ve been flowing well this spring. We’re going to try and keep it up. If both of us stay healthy, we can make some things happen."

Florida coach Will Muschamp puts a heavy emphasis on winning the line of scrimmage. That was harder than ever in 2013 when the Gators played the entire season without Green, the right tackle who suffered a torn labrum in preseason camp. Humphries, the left tackle, missed the final five games of last season with a sprained MCL.

Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., who lines up against both tackles in practice, saw the impact of their losses.

"Chaz was having a great summer camp [in 2013]," Fowler said. "He just had that setback, and it was like a freakish accident. D.J. is kind of like the anchorman. He leads everybody, so when he went down, things kind of went down the drain from there."

Muschamp said both players came back with more determination than ever.

"[Chaz] has picked it up to another level as far as his commitment, his work ethic," the coach said. "I mean, the guy has been a great example for our entire offseason program on how he’s handled himself and how he’s worked.

"I think when something’s taken away from you, you realize how important it is to you. Not that he didn’t work hard before -- he’s always worked hard, he’s always had a great work ethic -- but even more so this time."

Muschamp said Humphries has finally gotten his weight where it needed to be. Since January, he has consistently weighed more than 290 pounds -- the first time that has happened since he arrived at Florida.

Once practice began, the two were eager to return to action. Green, a senior, and Humphries, a junior, spent much of their time butting heads with Fowler, a junior who is the team's best pass rusher.

"Me, D.J. and Chaz, we really got each other better," Fowler said. "We went at it. We just competed this whole spring. I feel like I’m a better player, and I can feel it because of them helping me."

As Florida installed its new no-huddle spread offense, the two tackles saw just how well they fit the zone-blocking scheme, which is predicated on short drops by the quarterback.

"It's kind of made for athletic tackles," Humphries said. "So it's kind of working out for me and Chaz. We're able to get on the edge a little, get on the outside shoulder of our defenders. I would say it's been kind of an easy adjustment."

The effectiveness of the tackles has had a domino effect on the rest of the line.

Junior Tyler Moore, who played much of last season at right tackle in Green's absence, has found a home at guard. Senior Trenton Brown started the spring competing with Green at right tackle before moving to right guard.

Moore and Brown have cited Green as one of Florida's most important leaders.

"He's a really hard worker, a really talented guy," Moore said. "We've just got to keep him healthy."

Staying on the field is the key for Florida's entire offensive line, which was battered by injuries last season.

Having healthy bookends in 2014 is a tantalizing thought for the Gators. There's even a chance that Green and Humphries could anchor the line for two more seasons, as Green could still get a medical hardship waiver for missing the 2013 season.

"I haven't discussed that," he said. "I think I'm going to see how this year goes, and then if I need it I'll use it. I'm just trying to get back out there, have a great year, get back to playing at the level that I know I can play at, because it's been so long that I've been hurt.

"Help the team out with my play, that's what I'm trying to do."

With all of his focus on playing this fall, Green knows he'll be overcome with emotion when he finally gets back onto Florida Field on Aug. 30.

"I'm too excited," he said. "I feel like it's been so long since I've been out there. So I'm just excited to get out there, just get back to doing what I love doing."

Florida's spring standouts

April, 16, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Fresh faces were everywhere at Florida this spring.

A poor season in 2013 brought a clean slate. A new offense brought opportunities at every position. A large group of redshirt freshmen and true freshmen brought a much-needed infusion of talent.

Going into spring practice, our list of players to watch consisted of quarterback Jeff Driskel, cornerback Jalen Tabor, wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, tight end DeAndre Goolsby, and running back Adam Lane.

Now that football is finished for a few months, we'll take a look at the spring results and see who else stood out.

[+] EnlargeDriskel
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsFlorida QB Jeff Driskel is healthy again and it showed in the spring game.
Driskel: The fourth-year junior had a very good spring in terms of health, leadership and command of the offense. He capped it with a solid spring game, going 18-for-32 for 167 yards and a touchdown.

Tabor: It says a lot when a true freshman is thrown right into the competition for a starting cornerback job. At 6-foot-1, 188 pounds, Tabor used his long arms to make plays in coverage. He still needs to work on his press technique and where to keep his eyes, but it's easy to see that he has great athleticism and natural instincts.

Robinson: He came in with a lot of hype last season as a true freshman and didn't respond well to the rigors of college life, but this spring Robinson lived up to expectations. He is clearly Florida's most complete receiver and best hope for a star in the passing game.

Goolsby: The true freshman has the talent to become Florida's top pass-catching tight end. He drew the attention and praise of head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. But most young tight ends struggle with inline blocking, and Goolsby was no exception. He still has a lot to learn before he gets regular playing time.

Lane: Out of 12 redshirt freshmen, Lane made the biggest splash this spring. He proved to be very tough to tackle because, at 5-7, 222 pounds, he's built like a fire plug and never stops moving his feet. The Gators rode the "Lane Train" to a team-leading 12 carries for 67 yards (5.8 yards per carry) in the spring game.

Dante Fowler Jr.: Not enough can be said about the junior buck linebacker's importance in Florida's defense. The Gators simply need him to become a pass-rushing menace. He showed up in better shape this spring, commanded the respect and attention of his teammates and delivered on the field with consistency.

Trenton Brown: The mammoth senior began the spring looking like a backup at right tackle, but by the spring game Brown convinced his coaches that he was among Florida's five best offensive lineman and started at right guard. At 6-8, 361, Brown is easy to spot, especially when he's clearing running lanes.

Jarrad Davis: As a true freshman last year, Davis made a late-season breakthrough and followed that up with a very good spring. He consistently earned first-team reps and the praise of his coaches and teammates. Davis has quickly become a leader and clearly has a very bright future.

Hunter Joyer: After very limited offensive contributions over his first three seasons, the senior fullback was something of a revelation at the B position. He showed good hands, even on intermediate routes. Joyer sustained a minor knee injury in the spring game but earned praise afterward. "[He] did a great job this spring," Muschamp said.

Bryan Cox Jr.: It's unclear if the third-year sophomore was just a spring starter or if he can stick with the first unit this fall, but there's no denying that Cox stood out. With a nonstop motor, he forced coaches to experiment with moving junior Jonathan Bullard inside to defensive tackle. At the very least, Cox stepped forward to show that he can provide quality depth.

Duke Dawson: The "other" true freshman cornerback on the roster came in with less acclaim than Tabor but had just as much success this spring. Dawson is solid in coverage and plays with more of a physical edge than Tabor. "We’re excited about him, too," said defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin.

Veterans who performed up to their coaches' expectations included sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, junior left tackle D.J. Humphries, sophomore tailback Kelvin Taylor, senior safety Jabari Gorman, senior running back Mack Brown, senior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar and senior right tackle Chaz Green.

Several other players developed well enough to win consideration for playing time this fall. They were: junior slot receiver Latroy Pittman, junior guard/center Trip Thurman, sophomore safeties Keanu Neal and Marcus Maye, sophomore linebacker Daniel McMillian, redshirt freshmen defensive backs Nick Washington and Marcell Harris, and true freshman defensive end Taven Bryan.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Nobody does optimism quite like a football team in springtime. Especially one with a lot to prove.

As Florida made its way through spring practice, a majority of players who spoke to the media predicted that 2014 will be a whole lot better than 2013. Even coach Will Muschamp got into the prognostication business.

"We’re going to have a good team next year," he said. "We just need to continue to progress."

Now that the Gators' spring practice is in the rear-view mirror, it's time to re-evaluate our spring predictions with the benefit of hindsight.

Prediction No. 1: Florida will have a whole new attitude

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsFlorida coach Will Muschamp was satisfied with the progress the Gators made in spring practice.
OK, so we started off with a softball. It wasn't much of a reach to say the Gators would change the "woe-is-me" tune that permeated through an awful 2013 season. Nevertheless, a new attitude was extremely important in setting the tone of spring practice, building team chemistry and creating an environment for learning and development.

Leaders who were projected to step forward, such as quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., actually did more than was expected. Fowler became an authority, at one point taking two teammates to task over academics. Driskel was a focal point, gathering his teammates before the spring game to spur them into action.

The biggest thing that Muschamp needed to see this spring was belief in the concept of the new offense. He got that and a more.

Prediction No. 2: Kurt Roper will lead an improved offense

This seemed to be another easy one to fulfill, as the Gators' offense really had nowhere to go but up.

The biggest surprise of the spring might have been how the offense looked on the first day of practice. It was fast-paced, generally well-executed and coherent in its design.

In Roper, Florida fans were promised a fresh offensive mind. Four weeks later, he might have been the biggest new star to emerge.

The best move Roper made was to simplify everything and make his offense easy to learn. Aside from designing and implementing a scheme that best suited the players, Roper also did well in coaching his new pupils. He was equal parts patient and assertive and quickly established himself as a respected authority figure.

Prediction No. 3: New leaders will emerge on defense

This kind of thing happens every year at Florida, where the defense produces NFL players like a factory assembly line.

[+] EnlargeTaylor
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Michael Taylor aims to lead by example for the Florida defense.
The names might have been slightly off, but the final outcome was as expected. Fowler, Vernon Hargreaves III, Jabari Gorman, Michael Taylor and Jarrad Davis are the players to whom teammates look for tone-setting and guidance.

Taylor, a senior linebacker and a respected veteran, pointed out that UF had too much of the wrong kind of leadership in 2013. He and his defensive teammates did very little talking this spring and made few predictions. The emphasis is now on leading by example, so it's no surprise to see that all of Florida's aforementioned leaders are reliable performers.

There is an obvious air of confidence on this defense, despite a heavy dose of youth. Some of these guys are going into their fourth year in Muschamp's system, which has made players like Taylor practically into coaches on the field.

Prediction No. 4: Roper's offense will showcase the QBs

This one didn't fully bloom to fruition, as Florida focused on basic installation for most of the spring and then added more complexity late.

Driskel, a junior coming back from a broken leg, showed that he was both healthy and clearly ahead of his competition. Sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg and freshman Will Grier split second-team reps. All three wore noncontact jerseys and were limited in the running game, which is likely to be the foundation of the offense.

It should also be noted that Muschamp is extremely cautious about revealing details of any new schemes to the public. The overall result was a pretty vanilla version of a no-huddle spread offense. In the spring game, however, each of the three QBs had their moments.

"I really have looked at Practice 1 to Practice 15," Muschamp said after Saturday's game. "Have those guys improved every day? Yes. I think the answer is yes. Those guys have made subtle and sometimes huge leaps of improvement."

Prediction No. 5: Spring standouts will emerge

Ugh. This happens every year. Some poor player lights it up and is crowned the star of spring practice ... only to never be heard from during the regular season.

There were a lot of names -- some hits and misses -- mentioned in our final prediction blog.

Running backs Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane were excellent in camp, but Florida might very well use four tailbacks this fall, which would greatly diminish the possibility of a star rising.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Alvin Bailey was solid but unspectacular and did not climb the depth chart as predicted. He's behind at least six other wideouts.

Junior cornerback Brian Poole did not capitalize on his experience to pull away from his competition this spring. Young defensive backs Jalen Tabor, Nick Washington and Marcus Maye performed well, but the secondary remains unsettled heading into the summer.

Offensive linemen D.J. Humphries and Trenton Brown had very strong showings, and Brown did indeed move to guard, where he started the spring game.

The other side of the line was up and down. Fowler met everyone's expectations, but young reserve defensive tackles Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick were regularly pushed and prodded by coaches and teammates to improve their focus and stamina.

There was no singular star player this spring, and that could be a good thing.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In keeping with tradition, Florida concluded a month of practices with a feel-good scrimmage in front of thousands of fans and called the spring a success.

Coming off of a terrible 2013 season, the Gators desperately needed changes and positive feelings. They got that and more.

Florida satisfied head coach Will Muschamp's top priorities by installing a new offense, developing confidence, discovering some new players and rehabilitating some old ones.

Here's what else happened this spring:

[+] EnlargeWill Grier
AP Photo/Phil SandlinFreshman Will Grier showed a quick release in Florida's spring game.
Quarterbacks in command: From the opening of the first practice, it was obvious the QBs had studied hard and grasped the no-huddle spread offense. They led the installation process and made enough progress with fundamentals and basic principles to add wrinkles throughout the spring. Junior Jeff Driskel clearly separated himself as the starter in camp and had the strongest arm. He got into a good rhythm in the spring game and showed what the offense can do (against much of Florida's first-team defense). The battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot was a draw. Sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg improved as a passer throughout the spring and split reps with true freshman Will Grier. The much-anticipated prospect didn't disappoint, as Grier showed he has an extremely quick release and a bright future.

Deeper at receiver: The Gators have been painfully short of playmakers on offense in recent years, but the numbers are tilting in their favor. Florida will lean heavily on senior starter Quinton Dunbar and three talented sophomores who gained valuable experience last season in Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson. The three combined for 13 receptions in Saturday's spring game. Robinson led the way with five catches for 53 yards, including a 31-yard, highlight-reel touchdown. The biggest proof of concept for the offense was that it did what everyone promised it would -- get the ball to players in space.

Still some concerns: After years of departures to the NFL, Florida has a very young secondary. There's plenty of talent, but it appears likely that at least one of the true freshman cornerbacks -- Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson -- will start either at corner or nickel. There will also be two new starters at safety, with an open spot still up for grabs opposite senior Jabari Gorman. ... The issue Muschamp harped on the most throughout the spring was a "huge" drop-off in ability from his first team to the second team on the offensive and defensive lines. Mental and physical stamina is part of the problem. ... Florida still isn't getting much offense from its tight ends and fullbacks. "We’re still looking for that consistent playmaker at the B-position," Muschamp said Saturday. He did single out true freshman DeAndre Goolsby for praise. ... Though there weren't any major injuries this spring, the bug still looms. Florida on Saturday held out two key starters on defense in defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. There was no reason to expose them to risk, and can you blame a team that lost one of its best players in Ronald Powell to a torn ACL in the spring game two years ago?

Kick in the pants: Muschamp said he's talked to a lot of mental conditioning coaches to try to help place-kicker Austin Hardin iron out his mechanics. Hardin, who struggled mightily in his first season as UF's kicker, made all four of his field-goal attempts in the spring game and won his coach's praise for achieving some consistency. Hardin will still have to fight off a few walk-ons who will try to take his job.

Position changes: Senior offensive tackle Trenton Brown moved inside to guard, performed well as a starter in the spring game and will stay there. At 6-foot-8 and 361 pounds, the Gators love his ability to be a people-mover in the running game. ... Florida gave junior Trip Thurman a long look at guard throughout the spring before giving him second-team snaps at center in Saturday's game. ... Redshirt freshman Antonio Riles moved from defensive line to offensive guard midway through spring. Florida coaches like his athleticism and said he looked natural on the O-line, but the real reason for the move might have more to do with three highly touted defensive line signees who are coming this summer: Thomas Holley, Gerald Willis III and Khairi Clark. ... Redshirt freshman Marqui Hawkins wasn't making much of an impact at wide receiver early in the spring so he was moved to safety, where he played some in high school. Florida felt good about its numbers at receiver and needed more help in the secondary.

What's next: The Gators are on their own as far as workouts, as veteran players typically organize drills throughout the summer to stay sharp. Driskel said he plans to throw a lot and work on timing with his receivers. Muschamp said it best in outlining the next phase for his players: "Still got a way to go, 112 days until we report. Our older players understand the importance of this time of year. Understanding in all three phases, taking the next step schematically, being in shape, being ready to go and understanding what it’s going to take to be successful and win in this league."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jonathan Bullard expected to be one of the Gators' best players last season. Wanted it badly.

He came to Florida in 2012 as the No. 4-ranked defensive end prospect in the nation and put pressure on himself to produce even more after a solid freshman season.

But injuries forced him to play part of last season at defensive tackle, a position he had never played before.

[+] EnlargePeterman
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida's Jonathan Bullard has embraced a move to DT and is ready to wreak havoc on opposing offenses this fall.
He was lost amidst 600-pound double teams.

"If you know how to do something, you can do it full speed," he said. "But you're second-guessing yourself at something you haven’t done. You’re not moving as fast as you can. If you’re thinking too much, the ball is snapping and you’ve got a 300-pounder in front of you. You ain’t got time to think. So it was just different."

It showed in his production, on his face and in his body language.

"The coaches knew that I was kind of frustrated moving inside," he said. "I figured most people could tell that it wasn’t something that I really wanted to do."

Teammates tried to encourage Bullard to follow in the footsteps of former Gators Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley, who had played both positions before him.

"I talked to him about it most of the time," offensive lineman Trenton Brown said. "But I just try to tell him, 'Try to do what's best for the team. I know you didn't see yourself coming here to play three-technique, but it's best for the team and it'll show that you're versatile.'"

That is the personal impetus for Bullard. Floyd was a first-round draft pick, and Easley is looking to be selected early in the NFL draft in May. The benefits of playing inside and out, of showing that versatility on your game tape, led Bullard to seek the advice of Easley, who has been in town to prepare for his personal pro day in a few weeks.

"Actually, Ease has been around lately and it kind of happened to him," Bullard said. "He bumped outside and wanted to stay inside. I’m the opposite. I'm going from the outside and really not wanting to go inside. He just talked to me, told me to embrace it and work at it hard."

Bullard did just that in the offseason after head coach Will Muschamp called him into his office to discuss the move and why it was necessary.

"All offseason I’ve been working at it because I know we’re kind of light there now and had a couple of players out, so I was going to play a lot of it," he said. "Now I’ve got the hang of it and I can read things better at D-tackle like I could at end. Now it’s kind of even.

"To be honest, I’m actually trying to embrace it and enjoy it rather than last year, not wanting to but knowing I had to. So now I'm trying to embrace it and do it at a high level."

Muschamp believes the high-level results are already there.

"Jon Bullard I think is playing his best football," he said on Tuesday. "He's playing really well inside. ... I think Jon is a very good nickel rusher inside and he can really match up on some of the guards in our league."

The offensive linemen he goes up against in practice have certainly noticed.

"It's definitely a challenge," said junior OT Tyler Moore. "He's definitely stepped up his game this year. He's one of our better D-linemen, and he's showing that every day."

It didn't take long for Bullard to see the advantages his size and quickness would allow on the interior. Now he loves going up against guards and centers.

"You can definitely tell that they’re slower than the tackles," he said. "And also you’re closer to the ball, so you can read it better. Now I’ve gotten real good at it. At end, I just look at the tackle, but now that I'm inside I try to look at the two guards and the center. Sometimes you can kind of tell what’s about to happen before it happens. If you get that right, you can disrupt the play."

Since Floyd and Easley moved on, the Gators have searched for that disruptive presence inside. Bullard says he's the one to bring it back.

The smile has returned to his face. He says with a wink that he's got the defensive tackle position down. Bullard's body language is as easy to read as ever. He knows he's having a productive spring despite not taking a single snap at defensive end.

"This spring," he said, "I’ve been all inside."

And all in.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Ask Will Muschamp a simple question and most often you'll get a simple answer.

Like, what are you looking for in the early days of spring practice?

"Just effort," the head coach said last week as Florida held its first three practices.

Trying to turn the page from a nightmarish 2013 season, it's especially important to keep things as simple as possible this spring. Like all teams getting back onto the field, they're putting a lot of work into fundamentals, but Florida also has the complicated task of introducing a new offense.

[+] EnlargeDJ Humphries
AP Photo/John RaouxWith a new offensive line coach, D.J. Humphries and the Gators linemen are changing lineups.
"That's the balance," Muschamp said. "If you have priorities 1 and 1A, it would be the installation and the confidence of our offense, and then field goal kicking. Right now, those are priorities for me."

With Week 1 in the books, it’s clear that the coaching staff will take its time and gradually unveil the new offense. For now, practice is much more about the basics of technique, tempo and lining up properly.

"I wouldn't get too involved with where people are," Muschamp said. "We're trying to install the offense. I've been through it defensively. You don't want to get too dialed in personnel-wise right now. You're really kind of just trying to teach the offense. As we move through it then we will start narrowing down positionally what we're trying to do with certain guys at certain positions and what fits them best.

"I think the best coaches I've been around, they put their guys in situations to be successful. Don't ask a guy to do something he can't do or he's not as accomplished maybe that somebody else can do. …"

The fact of the matter is that Florida still has to do a lot of evaluations. This is the first opportunity for new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to see what he's got, see players' strengths and weaknesses and see which players have been able to translate their work from offseason meetings into something positive on the field.

For instance, in the early days of spring practice Florida quarterbacks have thrown a lot of passes to the tight ends. But with one true freshman seeing his first action and two seniors who combined for four catches last season, it's likely that Roper is trying to figure out how much they can handle. It's not necessarily a true indication of what fans can expect in the finished product this fall.

The same goes for new offensive line coach Mike Summers, who watched film to assess his players before practice began and is now trying various combinations to find out what works best. Florida's first team has most often been junior left tackle D.J. Humphries, junior left guard Trip Thurman, senior center Max Garcia, junior right guard Tyler Moore and senior right tackle Chaz Green. But senior right tackle Trenton Brown, who started the last five games in 2013, has gotten his chances with that unit as well.

It's a work in progress, and on both sides of the ball there are constant evaluations being made by the coaching staff.

"You've got to take it from the meeting room to the field," Muschamp said. "That's part of our evaluation. And then we're going to have to make game day adjustments. We have to make practice adjustments. If you can't make the adjustment out there, you're not going to make it in front of 90,000 people. That's part of the evaluation, and I tell our coaches all the time to make some adjustments. I'll walk up to [defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin] and say, 'Let's switch how we're doing this' in the middle of practice. And if kids can't handle it, that's part of our evaluation."

The Gators expect to have a whole new look on offense this fall, but there's a very different feel to this spring for UF's well-established defense. That gap between the two sides of the ball is one of the big challenges for Florida's coaching staff this spring.

"When you get into spring, you want to install together, which we do offensively and defensively," Muschamp said. "But there's a lot of give and take on what we can and can't do, because what we don't want to do is get too far ahead of the offense. We're in the third year of our [defensive] scheme, and our older kids have a very good understanding of what we are and who we're going to be. ...

"Our number one priority -- and [Durkin] understands that and our defensive players understand that -- is the installation of the offense. I've explained that to our entire football team. They understand that."

Ask Muschamp the simple question of what he's evaluating at this point, and his expectations are clearly much higher for the defense.

"Always from the guys that are back on the defensive side of the ball [it's] retention," he said. "The guys on the offensive side of the ball, with what we've been able to give them, did a good job of taking it to the field for the most part. But good enthusiasm, and guys are excited about what we're doing. We're pleased with that."

Opening spring camp: Florida

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
1:00
PM ET
Schedule: The Gators' first spring practice is Wednesday. It's open to the public and free, along with seven other practice sessions. Spring football concludes Saturday, April 12 with the annual Orange & Blue Debut, which starts at 1:30 p.m. ET.

What's new: After a 4-8 season in 2013, a couple of key offensive coaches were replaced. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease was fired and replaced with Kurt Roper, who was in the same position at Duke. Offensive line coach Tim Davis was fired and replaced by Mike Summers, who coached the OL at USC in 2013. Special teams coordinator Jeff Choate left to coach at Washington and was replaced with Coleman Hutzler, who coached special teams at New Mexico.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxFlorida pushed back the start of spring practice to ensure that previously injured players such as Jeff Driskel could participate.
On the mend: Florida pushed back the start of spring football by about 7-10 days in order to insure the full participation of several players who were injured last fall. Most notable among them are QB Jeff Driskel (broken leg), LBs Antonio Morrison (torn meniscus) and Jeremi Powell (torn ACL), and O-linemen Tyler Moore (broken elbow) and Chaz Green (torn labrum). Still, the Gators will be without nine players this spring, including two former starters -- RB Matt Jones (torn meniscus) and DT Leon Orr (broken wrist).

On the move: The biggest shuffling will happen on the offensive line, which lost three senior starters and another key reserve who transferred. Max Garcia, who started at left guard and left tackle last season, will move to center. Moore, who played tackle in 2013, moves to guard. Trenton Brown, who started five games at right tackle, will also see time at guard. And junior Trip Thurman, a reserve at guard and tackle who's been praised for his offseason work, will also get a look at center.

New faces: Eight true freshmen and a juco guard enrolled in January. The biggest impact is likely to come from CB Jalen Tabor, who should compete for a starting job. QB Will Grier will have a chance to become Driskel's primary backup. TE DeAndre Goolsby could stand out as a pass-catcher. Juco guard Drew Sarvary should compete for a spot on the two-deep roster. Taven Bryan has a chance to impress at defensive end. DB Duke Dawson will get a look at cornerback and safety. Kavaris Harkless provides depth at guard. RB Brandon Powell (foot) will be a non-contact participant. Guard Nolan Kelleher (back) is waiting on a second opinion before he's cleared to participate.

Question marks: There are so many following a subpar season. The biggest issue for Florida is making the most of its 15 allotted practices to install a new offense. Roper can often be heard telling his new students to play fast, but it will take time for new plays, new schemes and new principles to become second nature. The Gators' problems on offense ran deep. The line was porous in pass protection, often giving the quarterbacks precious little time to scan the field. When there was time, the receiving corps had trouble getting open. All of those issues must be addressed, as head coach Will Muschamp is betting his job on new hires Roper and Summers to restore competence to one of the worst passing attacks in the nation.

Florida was not great on defense last season, either. It's true that the offense got so bad that Muschamp publicly complained about the effect it had on his defense, but he also had some gripes of his own. The Gators' run defense, for one, slipped badly and got worse as the season went along. After DT Dominique Easley got hurt, the middle of UF's defense never recovered. It's a high priority for the Gators to find and develop some linemen who can win one-on-one battles. Also, for the second straight year, the secondary lost a lot of experienced players. Florida is deep and talented and will put pressure on several young players to progress quickly.

Key battle: There are several to choose from, but the most important and tightest competition will probably happen at middle linebacker. Morrison is the incumbent but performed below expectations last season. Senior Michael Taylor is a solid option and should push Morrison, but Taylor has always struggled in coverage. The wild card is sophomore Jarrad Davis, who came on strong as a true freshman when he drew raves for his speed, athleticism and ability to absorb coaching.

Breaking out: This is a team desperate for skill players to produce. Florida signed five talented wide receivers in 2013, and three -- Ahmad Fulwood, Chris Thompson and Demarcus Robinson -- saw immediate playing time. With at least one starting WR job up for grabs, the Gators are counting on those three and redshirt freshmen Alvin Bailey and Marqui Hawkins to mature. Roper's offense depends upon getting its best weapons the ball in space. At this time, any of those five could become the team's most dangerous weapon. Regardless of who it is, a reliable pass-catching threat must emerge this spring.

Don't forget about: On a young team, senior Quinton Dunbar will be counted on for leadership and more. He's been a solid possession receiver and has improved in each of his three seasons, but the Gators will ask Dunbar to take the next step. A certain starter, Dunbar needs to consistently separate and catch everything that comes his way. Florida's QBs need their senior receiver to be something of a security blanket.

All eyes on: It's all about the offense for a program that has consistently fielded one of the nation's best defenses. Driskel and Grier will be in the brightest spotlights, as only quarterbacks can be. They will be the easiest measuring sticks of the progress that Roper's offense makes, and hundreds of fans will come to practice to see if things are indeed improving. The shotgun, zone-read options and spread elements of the new scheme are tailor-made for these two QBs. Roper (and therefore Muschamp) will be counting on their QBs to make the offense look good.
Editor’s note: This is Part 5 of our weeklong series predicting what's ahead for Florida this spring.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With so much perfect weather in Florida, fans are expected to flock to the Gators' eight open practices, starting on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxJeff Driskel's ability to adapt to new offensive coordinator Jeff Roper's simplified passing game will be key this spring.
Leading up to the start of camp, we've looked at the top position groups with room to improve, five players to watch as well as the most important position battles this spring. We wrap it all up with one final prediction blog -- who will be the stars of Florida's spring practice session.

Jeff Driskel and Will Grier: Quarterbacks get all the attention, and Florida's QBs will be no different. Driskel has inspired some love/hate feelings among Florida fans in his up-and-down career. This spring is his chance to reinvent himself as a take-charge veteran leader. More than any other player, Driskel can be the key to a successful spring if he commands Kurt Roper's offense, makes it look cohesive and helps his teammates do the same. Grier is that shiny, new toy that every kid wants to immediately take out of the box and play with. No one expects Grier to even challenge Driskel for the No. 1 job, but fans can't wait to see Grier's arm and how well he operates as Driskel's understudy.

Predictions: Roper's offense, with its simplified passing game, will suit Driskel and Grier perfectly. By the end of spring, fans will be treated to something they haven't seen much of in recent years -- well-timed passes on intermediate routes. Driskel, still recovering from a broken leg, won't run much at all, but Grier will show off his legs and athleticism whenever the pocket collapses.

Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane: You could say that Taylor is already a standout after starting several games in the second half of the 2013 season, but this spring is a chance for him to solidify his claim as the alpha dog of the backfield (especially with his top competition, junior Matt Jones, out for the spring due to a knee injury). Lane, a redshirt freshman with speed and a bowling ball-shaped body, reminds people of Maurice Jones-Drew. With Jones out and senior Mack Brown set as a backup, Lane will have an opportunity to burst onto the scene.

Predictions: Taylor will excite Gators fans by looking more like his father, UF great Fred Taylor. He'll improve his decision-making and blocking, show off his hands and become a weapon on swing passes. Lane will be effective as a change-of-pace back and have great success hiding behind Florida's big offensive linemen. He'll prove to be hard to tackle as well.

Alvin Bailey: Another spring, another reason for hope when it comes to the Gators' beleaguered wide receivers. Florida knows what it has in senior starter Quinton Dunbar, and the highest expectations are for the development of talented sophomores Ahmad Fulwood, Chris Thompson and Demarcus Robinson. But Florida's Class of 2013 featured five WR recruits, and even though he redshirted, Bailey has the talent to explode in Roper's uptempo spread offense.

Prediction: Bailey's high school experience playing multiple positions will allow him to grasp Roper's offense better than most. He'll make headlines with his hands and shiftiness after the catch.

[+] EnlargeJalen Tabor
Miller Safrit/ESPNJalen Tabor could find an immediate role in Florida's secondary.
The secondary: There's a lot of pressure on true freshman early enrollee Jalen Tabor, who has been touted as an elite recruit who can play immediately, much like Vernon Hargreaves III in 2013. The Gators have lost a lot of reliable players in the defensive backfield in the last two years, so young players will have to step up. Junior Brian Poole could battle with Tabor for the starting spot opposite Hargreaves, remain at nickel, or shift to safety. There's a lot of work to do here, as several players have to settle into their best position.

Predictions: Tabor will be effective with his quickness and long reach, but Poole's experience will give him the edge to take over as a starting cornerback. Spring will be just the beginning, as the battle will continue in the fall. Redshirt freshman Nick Washington will be a fit at nickel cornerback, and sophomore Marcus Maye will stand out as a ballhawking free safety.

The big fellas: A lot of time is spent in the spring with skill-position players working on reading blocks, running routes and refining coverages. It's hard for linemen to stand out, but more than most programs, Florida likes to put on the pads and run its first-team offense against its first-team defense. When that happens -- and fans should get to see it in the spring game on April 12 -- the best battle will be left tackle D.J. Humphries against buck linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. Fans can also look for one of Florida's redshirt freshmen defensive tackles, Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick, to emerge. It will be fascinating to see how they perform against 6-foot-8, 361-pound offensive tackle Trenton Brown, who will also spend some time this spring at guard. If Brown can improve his knee-bend and pad level, he could become a people-mover on the Gators offensive line.

Predictions: After some struggles in 2013, Humphries will resurface this spring. He'll show off solid technique in pass protection as well as good punch in the running game. He and the rest of the O-line will spend a lot of time with new coach Mike Summers teaching his approach. Fowler will take the next step in his development as a pocket disruptor and start finishing more plays. With senior starting DT Leon Orr out for the spring, Bostwick will emerge as gap-penetrator.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Spring has sprung in the state of Florida, which means a much-needed football fix is almost here.

We're getting you ready for the Gators' spring practice with a look at five key position battles to watch when practice gets started on March 19.

Our weeklong series moves to the offensive line, a group of players who are critically important to Florida's plans for a rebirth on that side of the ball.

[+] EnlargeDJ Humphries
AP Photo/John RaouxD.J. Humphries is back and healthy for the Gators.
Returning starters: Left tackle D.J. Humphries, who will be a junior this fall, started six games in 2013 and missed the last five due to a sprained knee. He's one of Florida's top talents and is looking to bounce back after a sub-par season. Rising senior Max Garcia emerged as a leader last fall and started all 12 games, mostly at left guard and left tackle. Rising junior Tyler Moore made six starts at tackle last season before missing the final four games with a broken elbow. Mammoth juco transfer Trenton Brown played in every game last season as a junior and started the final five games at right tackle. Chaz Green was the Gators' starter at right tackle before he tore his ACL and missed all of last season.

Departures: Florida lost three seniors in center Jonotthan Harrison (12 starts), right guard Jon Halapio (10 starts) and guard/tackle Kyle Koehne (six starts). They were the heart and core leadership of the line. The Gators also saw key reserve Ian Silberman, who started the final four games at guard last year, transfer to Boston College after graduating in December. Two other transfers, Quinteze Williams and Trevon Young, never saw action for Florida.

Returning reserves: Rising junior Trip Thurman played in all 12 games as a backup. While he's not expected to unseat any of Florida's incumbent starters, Thurman will have an important role as the Gators' only returning reserve. The former three-star prospect has good size at 6-foot-5, 315 pounds and can play guard or tackle.

Newcomers: Last season, Florida redshirted tackle Roderick Johnson, center Cameron Dillard and guard Octavius Jackson, whose playing career is over because of a chronic shoulder injury. The Gators have three midseason enrollees who will participate in spring practice -- juco transfer Drew Sarvary and true freshmen Nolan Kelleher and Kavaris Harkless. This summer will see the arrival of three more linemen from UF's Class of 2014 -- tackles David Sharpe and Andrew Mike and guard Travaris Dorsey.

What to watch: No unit could use a clean slate more than Florida's offensive line. It struggled with injuries in 2013, but that wasn't the only major problem. The Gators have had trouble with pass protection for several years now, and it's proven to be one of the most crippling issues for an offense that hasn't been able to get out of its own way. Improving the pass blocking and developing depth are the two most important tasks this spring, and Florida will look to new line coach Mike Summers to lead the way. Summers comes to UF with 34 years of experience and a reputation as a fine teacher. Those skills will be put to the test, as the Gators have just five linemen with starting experience and only two others who have ever played in a college game. It's not necessary to settle on five starters this spring, but Summers needs to quickly figure out his players' strengths and best positions. Finding a replacement for Harrison, a three-year starter at center, is key. It's expected that a veteran like Moore or Garcia will make the shift to center, but Florida must continue to develop Dillard as a quality reserve who can eventually push for the starting job. Last year, Florida was unable to play a true spring game because of injuries to its offensive linemen, so staying healthy is another modest goal this spring. There are holes all over the two-deep roster and plenty of opportunities to win jobs. Fresh faces like Sarvary, Johnson and Kelleher will have their chances to carve out roles and perhaps even make it a competition with one of the five veterans. With a new OL coach and that much-needed clean slate, anything is possible.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's offense has been a problem for a few years now, and the line has taken its fair share of the blame. But 2013 was supposed to be different.

The O-line was expected to key a resurgent offense last season. It was experienced, talented and deep. But like a lot of positions on that woeful 2013 offense, a few injuries led to wholesale collapse.

To make matters worse, three senior starters departed and a key reserve was among three transfers. When the dust settled, Florida had just nine offensive linemen on scholarship.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Humphries
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesFormer five-star offensive tackle D.J. Humphries should be in line to start at left tackle for the Gators in 2014.
Last Wednesday, coach Will Muschamp announced a recruiting class with six offensive linemen, including three who are already on campus as early enrollees.

"We're getting our numbers back on the offensive line," Muschamp said. "We're right at 15. You'd like to have 15 to 17 offensive linemen on scholarship. That's a developmental game, but that's a huge developmental position, and that's where you've got to have guys in your program. So it's good to see that."

The offensive line continues our week-long series of the Gators' top positions with room to improve.

Battling for No. 1: It's not hard to project UF's starting offensive line because only five linemen on the roster have ever started a game. Only seven have ever played in a collegiate game, so there is a strong likelihood that those five veterans will be the Gators' starters. D.J. Humphries will look to reassert himself at left tackle after an injury-plagued sophomore season. Max Garcia should slide back to the left guard spot he played last season before injuries forced him to shuffle. Chaz Green, who started 19 games in two seasons, returns after missing last season due to injury. He mostly played right tackle but lacks bulk and could move inside. That would allow Florida to stick with 6-foot-8, 361-pound Trenton Brown on the outside. Then there's 6-5, 320-pound Tyler Moore, who played mostly at tackle last season before breaking his elbow. He could be a prime candidate to take over at center.

Strength in numbers: Florida hasn't developed much depth in recent years, and several offensive linemen have left the program. Trip Thurman, who will be a fourth-year junior this fall, has all of 15 career games as a backup under his belt. But that might make him the Gators' top reserve. Much was expected of Octavius Jackson, who came the closest to burning his redshirt last fall as a standout on the scout team. But his hometown newspaper recently reported that a shoulder injury has ended his playing career. Florida's other two linemen who redshirted last season will be counted on as key reserves in 2014. Roderick Johnson is well-built at 6-5, 316 pounds and could play tackle or guard. And Cameron Dillard was recruited as UF's center of the future. He'll need time to develop, however, because center is such an important position that it's doubtful the Gators would throw an untested freshman into the fire.

New on the scene: Of Florida's six new O-linemen, juco transfer Drew Sarvary might have the best chance of securing a role on the two-deep roster because he started 10 of 11 games for Florida A&M as a freshman before heading to junior college. The next most likely is guard Nolan Kelleher, who enrolled early and has the size (6-6, 305) to play right away. Another early enrollee, tackle Kavaris Harkless, will need time to bulk up. That and raw technique are common issues with true freshman offensive lineman, so it will take a special effort for any of the three freshmen who arrive this summer -- David Sharpe, Travaris Dorsey and Andrew Mike -- to earn significant playing time in the fall. Sharpe, the No. 2 OT prospect in the Class of 2014, has the athleticism to shine. Dorsey (6-3, 314) and Mike (6-6, 278) have the size to surprise.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's no secret the Gators are planning something big for 2014, something like turning a 4-8 team into a contender for the SEC East.

To do that Florida needs several players to step forward. Unknowns need to become contributors. Depth players need to become starters. Standouts need to become stars.

Here are five Gators who have to step up on offense in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxIt's safe to say that QB Jeff Driskel's improvement as a passer will be a key to the Gators rebounding from a disastrous 2013.
QB Jeff Driskel: Florida's official website lists him as a redshirt junior, which means Driskel is taking a medical redshirt for his disastrous 2013 season when he made two starts with a 1-1 record before breaking a bone in his leg. Driskel has produced very uneven results in starting 15 of 20 games in his career. He has the size (6-foot-4, 239 pounds) and athleticism to be an NFL prospect, but his instincts and decision-making in the passing game have not been consistently good enough to pull the Gators offense out of the ranks of the nation's worst. One of the top reasons Florida coach Will Muschamp hired Kurt Roper as offensive coordinator was for his work with quarterbacks. Roper will design an offense that plays to Driskel's strengths -- short passes and zone-read option plays with the tailback. It's entirely up to Driskel to show that he can grasp the principles, and more importantly the timing throws in the intermediate passing game in order for Roper to expand the offense into one that can be dangerous. Without a hint of understatement, the Gators' hopes of a bounce-back season likely depend upon Driskel's growth as a passer.

LT D.J. Humphries: It's no coincidence that everyone on this list struggled in 2013, either with injuries or performance or both. Humphries came to Florida with such pedigree, such advanced technique that he was never supposed to be the kind of player singled out in this manner. But he definitely fell into the third category as he struggled on the field before succumbing to an injury. Humphries started the first six games of his sophomore season before being taken out of the starting lineup against Missouri in Week 7. A sprained MCL cost him the final five games of the season. Now the Gators need Humphries to shake off the memories from those last couple of games and be the stalwart left tackle who protects Driskel's blind side. Humphries should devote his spring and fall practice sessions to polishing his technique, but at 6-5 and 285 pounds, he would benefit greatly from an offseason at the training table and in the strength program to add another 20 pounds and improve his upper-body strength.

WR Andre Debose: After a tearing his ACL in preseason last fall, the senior is expected back for his sixth season of eligibility. As many times as exasperated fans have thought "it's now or never" for Debose, the 2014 season really is it. Debose has teased Florida with his talent throughout a career filled with peaks and valleys. He was the nation's No. 2 receiver in the Class of 2009 and prompted then-coach Urban Meyer label him the "next Percy Harvin" before he ever put on cleats. Debose missed that first season with a knee injury and has just 29 career catches for 543 yards and four touchdowns. He's never started more than four games in a season, but he did prove to be an excellent kickoff returner. He's also a solid deep threat in the passing game, as all four of his career touchdown catches went for 64 yards or longer in the 2011 season. Now, more than ever, the Gators are desperate for a reliable veteran who can make plays at receiver. Debose has never impressed his coaches with his work ethic, but perhaps another long season on the sideline has helped mature a player who is obviously gifted.

[+] EnlargeChaz Green
John Korduner/Icon SMIThe Gators need Chaz Green to stay on the field in order to provide stability and experience to the offensive line.
OL Chaz Green: The Gators return just five offensive linemen with starting experience. With 19 career starts, Green is one of the most battle-tested of the bunch. But he's struggled with injuries throughout his otherwise productive career. Like Debose, Green suffered a season-ending injury during preseason camp last August when he torn the labrum in his shoulder. At the time, Muschamp said Green was "playing his best football" and had solidified his spot as the starting right tackle. But at 6-5, 300 pounds, it's possible Green could shift inside while one of his replacements last season, 6-8, 361-pound Trenton Brown, stays at right tackle. Either way, Florida needs Green to stay on the field more than anything.

WR Demarcus Robinson: Several receivers have come to UF in the last few years as the next big thing. It's almost become a running joke that a freshman emerges every spring looking the part of an instant contributor, if not a starter. Rarely has it carried over in games that count. Robinson did just that last year, following in the footsteps of previous spring stars like Latroy Pittman and Frankie Hammond Jr. and then finishing 2013 with five catches for 23 yards. Along the way, there were questions about his maturity and consistency. But there's no questioning Robinson's size, speed and hands. For Florida wide receivers coach Joker Phillips, the extra attention he'll pay to Robinson this offseason could pay big dividends if he can put it all together in his sophomore season.

In coming up with this list, two positions stood out for very different reasons -- no running backs or tight ends were included.

Florida has a stable of capable tailbacks it can turn to this fall. Sophomore Kelvin Taylor got plenty of experience in 2013. There's a reliable senior backup in Mack Brown. Former starter Matt Jones is a wild card looking to return from last season's knee injury. And redshirt freshman Adam Lane is a promising prospect.

The tight end position, however, is a sore spot that produced all of four catches last season. Florida relies on two former defensive linemen in Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton. Colin Thompson looks the part but has seen his career plagued by a nagging foot injury. Florida's best hope might be an early entry freshman in DeAndre Goolsby.

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